Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Saturday, 28 November 2009

First China milk scandal legal claim reaches courts

Chinese babies waiting to be checked by medical staff (file photo)
Tainted baby milk made thousands of Chinese children ill

A Chinese court is hearing the first civil compensation claim by a parent whose child fell ill during last year's tainted milk scandal.

Ma Xuexin of Henan province is suing collapsed dairy group Sanlu and a supermarket for $8,000 (£4,860).

His young son is one of hundreds of thousands of infants who became sick after drinking baby milk formula laced with the industrial chemical melamine.

Two people were executed on Tuesday for their part in the scheme.

Nineteen other people have been jailed in connection with the case, which resulted in the deaths of at least six children.

Melamine is used in the making of plastics and fertilisers. If ingested it can cause kidney failure and kidney stones.

10 Sept: 14 babies reported ill in Gansu province
15 Sept: Beijing confirms first deaths from the contamination
22 Sept: Number of ill babies rises to tens of thousands (and eventually will rise to more than 300,000)
23 Sept: Other countries start to test Chinese dairy products or remove them from shops
31 Oct: Chinese media suggest melamine is routinely added to animal feed
23 Dec: The main dairy firm involved, Sanlu, files for bankruptcy
31 Dec: Four senior Sanlu executives go on trial
2 Jan 2009: Firms involved ask for forgiveness in a mass New Year text message
22 Jan: Courts in Hebei province sentence two men to death and 19 to prison terms
March: Higher courts reject appeals
24 Nov: Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping executed

Investigations have shown that dairy producers watered down their milk to make supplies go further, then added melamine so that it appeared to have a higher protein content.

In December 2008, the government ordered 22 firms implicated in the scandal to pay a total of 1.1bn yuan ($161m; £97.5m) to the hundreds of thousands of families involved.

But some families say the compensation is inadequate and are turning to the courts.

According to state-run China Daily, Mr Ma told the hearing that his 20-month-old son had developed a kidney stone after being fed hundreds of packets of Sanlu-brand milk formula.

As well as the compensation, he wants his son's medical expenses to be paid by the state-administered milk compensation fund until the boy reaches adulthood, the daily said.

Beijing-based lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who is handling about 200 such cases, told the BBC that the start of this hearing represented a breakthrough.

He said that the cases were being handled individually because the courts had rejected an attempt to sue for compensation as a group.

So far six cases had been accepted by courts across the country and Mr Ma's was the first to be heard, he said.

The trial began on Friday at a court in north-east Beijing and continues on 9 December.

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